Chapter 23:

Assaad Hardane prepares a suiside driver.

Elie Hobeika was horror stricken, but not crushed. He was, on the one hand, convinced that the attempt on his life would help him win back his popularity. On the other hand, the Syrians would boost him and help him get even with Geagea, even boot Geagea out of the Christian sector. No sooner had Hobeika regained his health, then he set off his avenging machine.

During 1987 and 1988, Hobeika and the Syrians started preparing their riposte. Retaliation was inevitable. They had to move, quickly, swiftly and decisively. The appetite for violence was at a peak. “Boobie-trapped vehicles” was the “absolute” weapon to wipe out all of the Lebanese Forces Christian command Council.

It was on a Wednesday afternoon during the sacrosanct weekly meeting of the Lebanese Forces Executive Council with all commanding officers attending. Barely a month after the foiled attempt on Hobeika’s life, H.K. had his inside network of agents operating within Geagea’s Christian Command in Beirut’s Karantina.

When Hobeika’s “Amn”, the Security and Intelligence mechanism,disintegrated, some of the boys stuck with Geagea. However, they only held administrative second rate jobs to keep them off the game. At that time, Tony Abou Jaoudeh, alias Zorro, from Ayn Remaneh was Chief of the “Licenses and Passes” section. His assistant was a friend of Walid el Zein a Moslem Shiat from Ayn Remaneh who had fled with us to Zahleh. Walid volunteered to get in touch with Zorro’s assistant who according to his confirmation could be bought. Al Zein contacted him and made a deal with him to issue a special pass for a white Peugeot 504 so it could get into the compound during the meeting without arising suspicion.

The Red Cross ambulance did not need a pass. It was scheduled to arrive right after the explosion and was also fixed with explosives and a suicide driver provided by PPS Assaad Hardane. The plan was to have the ambulance burst out after the first explosion blew approximately one fifth of the Christian areas of Beirut. Cruelty and crime had absolutely no limits.

The two vehicles were boobie trapped in a deserted villa under the huge statue of the Virgin on the hilltop overlooking the city of Zahleh. The vehicles were fitted under the supervision of Assad Shaftari. Plastic explosives, TNT, hexogene, galenite, nails, 120mm mortar shells, domestic gas were not enough for this attack. Boulder, which is powder block, arsenic was added to the vehicles.

Two large jugs were handed over to Hobeika, by Jihad Khaddam, Abdul Halim Khaddam was in Damascus. I personally transported the jugs from Damascus to Zahleh and handed them over to Assaad Shaftari. The bloodthirsty, monomaniacal warlord, Hobeika would not settle with killing Geagea, he wanted no less than a thousand Christian dead along with Geagea. The two vehicles were tuned, the plan finalized and the operation pendent.

Hobeika and the Syria’s forbearance was withering away. Something was going wrong. The passes were not issued as anticipated even though the money was paid for their delivery. Therefore, the operation was put off. This was not to their liking. Walid el Zein, the middle-man, was summoned and questioned. He confessed that the money he was supposed to have given to our agent for the pass went to his own family, no money,. no pass, no operation. Geagea suspected the conspiracy, detected the double agent, and increased his vigilance. The plan was canceled.

Walid el Zein, the Shiat Moslem who swindled Hobeika and foiled his plan was handed over to the jailer Louis Abou Khalil and tortured for 20 days. His mother came up to Zahleh inquiring about her son. She stayed at my house, crying her soul out, and cursing Hobeika.

I was in Damascus with Hobeika while Bourvil looked after her. In the end, her son was released and went back to West Beirut to avoid further internal trouble, his mother returned to Ayn Remaneh where she had always lived.

From that moment, Walid El Zein stayed put and inactive in West Beirut. He later managed to patch up his relationship with Hobeika who preferred to deal with his sort of personality! Little by little, El Zein became a big shot. Hobeika could not do without him because he handled all of his secret and dirty affairs. He became his chauffeur, his bodyguard, his soul. In the early 90’s, El Zein was converted to Christianity and married in the Church. Hobeika was his best man.

The foiled massacre of Christian people and the treacherous and vicious inter Christian wars marked the years 1988 and 1989. It was the prelude or premonitory signs of the final deadly episode, this time between Geagea and General Michel Aoun, 14 years after the outbreak of The War, in 1975. Now began a series of crushing blasts triggered by the successive Christian leaders, which, in the end struck down and broke up all the Lebanese Christians in 1990.

Earlier, before the end of the Presidential mandate, and by a turn of the tide, Amin Gemayel and Samir Geagea were on a tight rope. Their relations were tense. Syria played on it. Their man remained Hobeika or as a stop gap, Soleiman Franjieh who on Syria‘s instigation submitted his candidacy to stop the backstage talks. Gemayel had tried to bridge the gap between the Christians and Damascus, maybe for personal motives, he was secretly seeking a second mandate. His action remained hollow. Aoun had sent numerous messengers to the Syrian command and Geagea delegated Zahi Bustany in person. All in vain!

The three Christian leaders who vowed hatred for each other, had raced up, and kneeled down to thrust themselves into the arms of Syria, each on his own, to gain its support in the presidential choice. Syria stalled. The election of its candidate, Michael el Daher torpedoed, and Damascus was adamant on this point, the three antagonists had to join forces, at least temporarily. This move was to eliminate their common adversary, and then supplant each other and in the process,”kill” the Christian people politically and physically with them.

On September 22, 1990, after palavers, shuttles, schemes and intrigues and above all Syria’s intransigence, Amin Gemayel’s mandate ended and no President was elected. At midnight, Gemayel announced that he was handing the interim government to General Michel Aoun. Geagea, who was at the Baabda presidential palace, played by the rules and with his usual sardonic smile declared to the Media and the people, “Aoun is a man after your own hearts, boys, this is the Independence Government”. It was in fact a war Cabinet and warfare solution. Gemayel knew it and like Pontius Pilatus, washed his hands of this affair. The power-base was at its last gasp, hanging by a thread.

Geagea harbored his resentment. He was aware that a military Cabinet was meant to destroy the Lebanese Forces and prevent them from seizing the Kataeb Party, which Geagea was about to realize successfully. He acted swiftly.

On October 3, 1988, his men had stormed the Northern Matn, Amin Gemayel’s traditional stronghold, took over all military positions and posts, and besieged the newly declared President’s private residence. Aoun waited and watched. Amin Gemayel had to leave Lebanon. The two men and their respective institutions were left face to face. The worst was yet to come.

The conflict was political, strategic, and financial. Geagea was determined to safeguard his option and objectives for a Federal State, a Christian entity he would preside over and hold by the throat. Through his “Solidarity Foundation “he had reinforced his ascendancy on the Christian people. Michel Aoun’s ambition was growing, and like Bashir Gemayel, sought more power. His war horse was by now a unified state with Geagea out of the way. His final objective was to represent, and speak in the name of all of Lebanon. His strategy was like Samson’s, to die with the Philistines, provided the power remained his, with no one to share it. He could care less about the Christians.

To checkmate Geagea and weaken his military position, he set up a Naval Operation room to close down all illegal ports. These ports were one of Geagea’s main revenue source. He then outlawed tax levying by the Lebanese Forces, imposed upon the Museum, Barbara and Monte Verde checkpoints and land taxes in Jdeideh and Junieh.

On February 14, 1989, the first clashes erupted between the Lebanese Forces and the Lebanese Army, prelude to the all out war between them. Ten days later, an Accord was concluded for a number of reasons. There was pressure from the the United States of America, France, Iraq and the Vatican. Geagea recanted and apparently yielded to get better prepared to boot Aoun on his own terms, and in his own time.

The wheel turning, many Christian families began to run away to West Beirut, to shun further violence, they had sensed it was bound to explode. They were mostly rich families and businessmen among whom, Roger Tamraz, the man who did not hesitate to put all his wealth for the promotion of the Christian “Cause”and guaranteed all the supplies of money Geagea’s Lebanese Forces needed.

In the meantime, Hobeika kept a low profile, waiting to supplant his rivals in a blood bath, should the need arise. By then, he had moved to West Beirut and shuttled between the Syrian and Lebanese capitals, conspiring and kidnapping for ransom. He was in dire need of money. The first on his list was evidently multi-millionaire Roger Tamraz, an easy prey, because he was an old friend, and had already opened up on the Syrian and Druze leaders. Walid Jumblat, disheartened and smothered by the Lebanese Forces. Hobeika had a bird at hand.

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